SINGAPORE — Hotel restaurants—like Grissini at Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel—are a fussy thing to review. Too often, their gastronomical ethos is less a consequence of culinary expertise from one talented chef, but rather, I reckon a result of several hotel department heads coming together to collectively approve every single plate that comes out of the kitchen.
It reminds me of the adage ‘It takes a village to raise a child', a fitting metaphor that eloquently explains and affirms these things that hotels do in service of a great experience. But, I’m also reminded of the other often used saying, “Too many cooks spoil the broth”—a keener, more apropos expression that better frames the fate that often befalls a hotel restaurant on the cusp of great repute.
These are thoughts I entertain over dinner one Friday evening at Grissini, where newly minted Chef Kenny Huang takes over the reins as culinary commander-in-chief from former Head Chef Marko Vinco. Kenny’s journey as a chef is one steeped in gastro-inspiration, headlined by his move to Northern Italy to the city of Turin to immerse himself in the country’s culture and cuisine.
In some ways, I feel highly blessed and favoured to sit in this gilded dining hall, savouring the fruits of Chef Huang’s labour, gathered from his brief move to Italy and when he staged at Italian fine-dining restaurant 28 Wilkie as Head Chef. It shows in the amuse-bouche—creamy and faultlessly decadent prosciutto with truffle and mascarpone and a cherry tomato that is bright as the midday sun in Singapore.
It’s a great opener to Grissini’s 7-course Degustation menu priced at S$128++ for diners who fancy themselves a little culinary tête-à-tête. For the most part, it’s nuanced and employs in its arsenal quality, praiseworthy produce, though at times, I wish Chef Kenny pushes the envelope a little further and reserve all manners of restraint for another day.
Take, for instance, the second course of Italian Red Prawn served on a purée of green pea, topped with caviar, and a surprisingly tasty squid ink cracker. I fervently believe this dish could have been better had it been served hot instead of at this neither-here-nor-there temperature that sits confusingly between cold and room. It’s perfectly fine for a prawn presentation, though I wonder how relevant purée is in 2021, especially when it’s this lacking in flavour personality. Thank God for these prawns—juicy, fresh, firm to the bite, and perfectly grilled, with a prawn head designed for whole consumption.
From here on, unfortunately, creativity plateaus and I’m served plate after plate of perfectly average food in a place that demands greatness. There’s a Grilled Octopus that could have been more boldly seasoned. That it comes with a potato mousse must be the most peculiar thing I’ve ever seen served with Octopus.
The Risotto that follows is an intense bomb of flavour and easily my favourite plate for the evening. It comes served with a wedge of foie gras that, at parts, is slightly overcooked, though I didn’t mind it. I did, however, remember rolling my eyes so hard at the delicate sliver of 24-carat gold leaf that felt unnecessary, adds absolutely nothing to the dish, and feels like it’s been placed there by someone who wears a Hermes belt to work, shirt tucked in, a huge gaudy Rolex on the wrist.
I’d much rather prefer something bright, like citrus, than a performative (at best) gold leaf. That would at least go a much longer way in lifting this entire plate, now slowly at risk of buckling under the weight of its own indulgence.
By now, I worry about predictability and everything being perfectly average. No sooner had I entertained that thought out comes a dainty plate of Tortelli, stuffed with the sweetest butternut squash that sits in a pool of yellow parmesan fondue. It’s comforting, but in the words of Shania Twain, “it don’t impress me much”. Surely something could have been done to make this less one-note—a touch of acidity, perhaps?
Look, it’s not that Chef Kenny is lacking in any way; I hardly doubt it. But it is somewhat perplexing to pick out from my mouth the scales from this Seabass which should, if cooked correctly with swiftly-poured scalding hot oil, be crispy and a delight to eat instead of being the gastronomical nuisance that it is now. It’s a damn shame, really, because the flesh is beautifully cooked, and although served with a predictable side of wild mushrooms, spinach, and thyme jus, works well for a fish course. At this point, I’ll settle for ‘well’, anytime.
Desserts come by way of Strawberries cooked in aged balsamic, served with a quenelle of lavender gelato. As an ending to a meal, like everything else today, it works. But also, like everything else, it feels like an incomplete exercise in creation and execution. As if someone scribbled some great ideas down on a notebook and forgot to have everything come to a cohesive and fitting close. Cooking down this sexy, aged balsamic is such a waste when it could have achieved the same objective with measured dollops strategically placed throughout the plate. But after a whole evening of tedious dining, I guess such monotony is to be expected.
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